Friday, May 23, 2014

Go Denver

TigerBlog's first NCAA men's lacrosse Final Four was in 1992, at Franklin Field, when Princeton won the first of its six championships.

Since then, he's been to every Final Four except for three - in 1995, 1999 and 2003. For the past nine years, he's been part of the official stat crew at the championships, and he's heading to Baltimore for the weekend again.

The job requires doing stats for five games in three days - the two Division I semifinals tomorrow, the Division II and Division III finals Sunday and then the Division I final Monday.

TigerBlog is rooting for five close games, something that rarely happens. He'd love to see an overtime or two. And come Monday, he'd love to see Denver holding the big trophy.

To get there, Bill Tierney's team will have to get past top-seeded Duke in the semifinals. The winner of that game will then play the winner of Notre Dame and Maryland in Monday's final.

Sometime tomorrow, TigerBlog will tell his friends from Duke athletic communications that the stats will be fair, no matter how hard he's rooting for the Pioneers.

When Tierney left Princeton for Denver, the Pioneers had been to one NCAA tournament and had lost in one game. Now in his fifth year, Tierney is at his third Final Four and has been to the NCAA tournament all five years.

Now he's trying to pull off what would be an incredible feat, and that is to become an NCAA champion at Denver. To do so, he'd have to come out on top in a Final Four that features three ACC teams. It won't be easy.

Duke is going to score goals on Denver, whose offense in turn Duke probably won't be able to slow down either. The key will probably be face-offs, which figures to be an advantage for the Blue Devils, who have last year's Final Four Most Outstanding Player, Brendan Fowler.

Hey, in one game, who knows? Either way, TB is rooting for Tierney.

No matter what, though, the stats will be unbiased.

The lacrosse Final Four is a great event, one that is struggling to find the right way to curb the fall in attendance. When the championships first went to an NFL stadium, record crowds flocked. In recent years, those numbers have steadily fallen.

What's the issue? Is it that the game is too well-presented on television? Is it the cost? Is it that the thrill of college lacrosse in professional venues has worn off?

Maybe it's all of that. Maybe there are other factors.

Either way, TB still loves to go.

He would have loved it even more if Princeton had gotten this far, but that was not to be this year for the Tigers.

Still, the accolades continue to roll in for Tom Schreiber, the senior midfielder.

Schreiber was named a USILA first-team All-America when the team was announced yesterday. It was the third straight year in which Schreiber was a first-team All-America, and he is a four-time All-America after earning third-team honors as a freshman.

As for the historical significance of his third first-team selection, only two other players in school history have ever done so.

The first was goalie Scott Bacigalupo, who was a sophomore on that 1992 championship team and then won again 20 years ago in 1994. The other was middie Josh Sims, who won titles in 1997 and 1998 and took the Tigers to the 2000 finals.

Those two, and Schreiber. That's it.

TigerBlog has said this a million times, but Schreiber can do things on a lacrosse field that no other player TB has seen at Princeton could do. He was a marvel to watch.

TB would have loved to have seen him on the stage this weekend. It's not every player's destiny to get there though.

That's why those who are playing this weekend should never take it for granted.

TigerBlog certainly started to, figuring it was Princeton's right to play on Memorial Day weekend every year. The Tigers haven't been there since 2004, but TB goes into every season thinking this year will be the next one.

He can't complain, really. He's seen Princeton play in 10 Final Fours and eight finals, of which the team won six, four of which came in overtime. That's more than a lifetime's worth.

And in all honesty, Princeton lacrosse has been a wildly unlucky team over the last few years. Every season-changing bounce seems to go against the Tigers. 

TB wants to see at least one more. He wants to see Chris Bates get his team there, and why not next year, right?

As for this year, his original pick was Duke, and he'll stay with the Blue Devils, even as he's rooting for Denver. He'll go with Maryland on the other side and then Duke to win Monday.

TigerBlog will see if he's right - from the same seat he has every year at this event.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Among all of Bill Tierney's accomplishments at Princeton, perhaps the most remarkable was his record in one-goal or two-goal games, especially in NCAA tournament games. It was uncanny. If the Tigers were close, especially if the stakes were high, they won.

Chris Bates' tenure has included achievements as well, but one odd curiosity is his lopsided record in one-goal or two-goal games. It's eerie. With a few notable exceptions, the Tigers now lose a disproportionate share of close games, when presumably the talent level is even.

It might just be a continuing series of "unlucky bounces" as TB calls the recent disappointments, but it is probably more than that. After enough data points, luck is no longer the driving factor and I think our sample size is large enough now.

I hope this doesn't come across as another one of those ubiquitous fan complaints about why we don't win the national championship every year. Rather, this is just an observation that fourth-quarter strategy and game management as well as generally controlling the tactical flow of a close game is a skill in and of itself, independent of all the other abilities which make a great coach. Among Tierney's many strengths is the ability to dictate the pace and development of a close game better than almost any other coach in any sport.